If Kerala is to have meaningful idea-based politics and the option of choosing between different governance models instead of combinations of vested interests hiding behind a veneer of blurred ideologies, we need to enforce a variant of family planning on our political parties and trim the number of parties to three or four. Neither of the two major united fronts is, however, likely to heed this advice on its own.
The origins of most of these splinter parties tell an interesting story. Kerala Congress was formed in 1964 by Congressmen who broke away from Indian National Congress protesting against a perceived insult to the memory of their leader late P. T. Chacko. Before he died of heart attack at a comparatively young age, Chacko’s followers had been organising huge public rallies to express mass support for P. T. Chacko who had been forced out of the Cabinet by the then Chief Minister late R. Shanker, who is the idol of Vellappally Natesan.
The movement against Shanker had been supported jointly by Mannath Padmanabhan and the central Travancore Congressmen belonging to the Chacko group. The newly formed Kerala Congress scored stunning victories in the indecisive 1965 election in several constituencies hitherto known as Congress bastions, in spite of active mobilisation of SNDP in support of National Congress. This opened the eyes of the national leadership of the Congress, who sought reconciliation and return of the rebel Congressmen to the parent party. Mannam, the chief mentor of the newly formed Kerala Congress, responded to the overtures and advised Kerala Congress to re-merge with National Congress. But only a few Nair leaders with hardly any following accepted Mannam’s sage advice. The mostly Christian leadership of Kerala Congress and some Nair leaders like R.
Balakrishna Pillai decided not to go back to National Congress. The result of this botched re-merger effort was the electoral ruin of both National Congress and Kerala Congress in 1967 when the united front politics was introduced in Kerala by EMS.
Notwithstanding the electoral debacle of 1967, Kerala Congress leaders realised that they would lose their bargaining strength if they submitted to the discipline of a national party through a merger. An alliance of personal interests such as Kerala Congress, was, however, bound to break up in due course. Once the process of splitting the party started, there was no stopping and each leader with some following in a constituency or community found it profitable to have one splinter of Kerala Congress in his pocket with his name tag attached to it. Kerala Congress has split, merged, again split, aligned and realigned so many times and tried so many permutations and combinations that this process is now considered a phenomenon rather than a joke.
All efforts to discover some ideological underpinning for this political party have been unsuccessful. The only factor that unites the members of any of the Kerala Congress splinters is the hope of getting some bread crumbs thrown by its leader if he is enabled to sit on a power perch. Already there are rumours that one faction of the largest block will cross over to LDF before the elections and the other faction might climb the Modi bandwagon after the elections if UDF fails to come back to power.
Another joke of a political party is RSP. When this party managed to get six of its candidates elected to the Assembly, my late uncle remarked, “Aru (6) SP has now fulfilled its ambition”. It is accepted by all, including leaders of the party, that 'Aru SP' will never be able to become 'Ezhu SP' however much they try! I asked many politically aware intellectuals of Kerala what the ideological base of RSP was but nobody had a clue. No doubt, the previous generation of RSP leadership included some very honourable and charismatic individuals such as Srikanddhan Nair and T.K.
Diwakaran, but that is about it. I have respect for the honesty and hardworking nature of the party’s lone MP, Premachandran, but not for his party.
There is yet another bunch of splinter parties who claim inheritance of the intellectual legacy of Nehruvian and Lohiaite socialism. I am referring to the groups of people who call themselves Janata Dal, NCP and Congress (S). These are leftovers of what were once-up-on-a-time mainstream national parties. Though Janata Dal and NCP still have viable units in one or two other states with some hope of sharing power there, the Kerala units of these parties have very little ideological commonality with their principals. These groups of politicians are, like the Kerala Congress splinters, essentially in the run for power and pelf and just want to have a party name with national recall. Even among these, Congress (S) is known as one of the endangered species. Kadannappally Ramachandran must be the only member of this party in the world!
Will the people of Kerala be able to send these parties and their leaders to retirement homes in the forthcoming Assembly election? This can be done only if the Kerala electorate decides to eliminate ruthlessly all these ideology-agnostic and footloose political parties without considering the merits of individual candidates.
(The author is a former Civil Aviation Secretary and former member, Union Public Service Commission)